Manjaro 17.1.6 Hakoila Xfce - Whither goest thou?

Updated: March 31, 2018

Several days ago, I tested Manjaro 17.1.6 Plasma edition on my Nvidia-powered LG laptop, an old beast still bravely soldiering on into its ninth year. The experience was pleasant enough if rife with bugs, but overall, Hakoila delivered a whole bunch of goodies, including some super-unique features that you don't see in other systems, making me intrigued enough to extend the testing onto my eight-boot Intel-graphics Lenovo G50 laptop.

Then, I decided to actually try the Xfce flavor, so as not to repeat myself. This means the results ought to be ever so slightly different, or perhaps significantly different, but if this be a good, robust distro then it should deliver. Let's see what gives. After me.

Teaser

Live session

Much like the Plasma edition, you have the boot menu that lets you customize various options. You still have option to choose free/nonfree drivers, but not sure if this makes sense on a laptop with Intel graphics. Anyway, the UEFI setup gave it no grief, and it launched fine into the live session. The sequence was full of text messages, flickering and two different resolutions of text.

The default looks are okay but nothing special - green/gray theme, but it looks less impressive than the Plasma edition. Somehow, just not cobbled as well together. For example, the system menu is positioned so that the categories are not listed in their entirety, meaning scrollbar, and one of the categories shows with only about top 10-15px displayed. I mean why not show it all, especially since Whisker is so easily configurable?

Live session

Menu

The Wireless icon comes with a weird artifact - some sort of line underneath. Ugly.

Wifi icon artifact

Fonts

This is another biggie. The contrast was so bad my head was hurting within a few minutes. Worse yet, none of the available themes, not even the default Adwaita so to speak, comes with normal font color. It's all pale gray, and it makes no sense. I really wonder if perhaps dev brains are wired differently from ordinary folks.

Pale font

Pale font, more

make
rm -rf ./gtk-3.0/.sass-cache
test -z "gtk-3.0/gtk.gresource gtk-3.0/gtk-contained.css gtk-3.0/gtk-contained-dark.css" || rm -f gtk-3.0/gtk.gresource gtk-3.0/gtk-contained.css gtk-3.0/gtk-contained-dark.css
sass --update --sourcemap=none ./gtk-3.0
make: sass: Command not found
make: *** [Makefile:559: compile] Error 127

The terminal is transparent. Completely unusable. You get the annoying Xfce beep - I showed you how to remove it in my CentOS 7 Xfce review on this same machine, and it kicks in any time you hit the end of something with any one arrow key, Backspace, or try to log out.

Lastly, the text editor allows you to open the same file as many times as you want in multiple windows - never tabs, and this means you could potentially overwrite your own files with an older version, and there's no warning whatsoever.

And if you want to add stuff ...

All right, so I thought I'd fire Octopi and install a few themes like Greybird and such. No Octopi in the system menu, it seems. I did eventually find a package manager, and it does search - including the AUR repo, but then, when I tried to install something, nope, DB error, what. Manual compilation of packages also does not work, because reasons. So not only are you given a bad choice, you're actually given no choice.

Octopi missing

DB issue

make
rm -rf ./gtk-3.0/.sass-cache
test -z "gtk-3.0/gtk.gresource gtk-3.0/gtk-contained.css gtk-3.0/gtk-contained-dark.css" || rm -f gtk-3.0/gtk.gresource gtk-3.0/gtk-contained.css gtk-3.0/gtk-contained-dark.css
sass --update --sourcemap=none ./gtk-3.0
make: sass: Command not found
make: *** [Makefile:559: compile] Error 127

Network connectivity

Average minus. Wireless worked, good. Bluetooth connected fine but then failed to send files over to the phone. Samba shares is not there - and we will probably need to fix this manually after the install, and there does not seem to be any normal printing applet except the CUPS interface through the browser.

Samba

Printer in the menu

CUPS

BT paired

Failed to send file

Multimedia playback

The usual suspects - MP3 and HD video, no complaints. Well, one. Any time the mouse cursor would move in and out of the VLC playback frame, the video would flicker, turning black then resuming playback. Odd.

HD video

MP3

Smartphone connectivity

Very good. All three major brands - Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, good. Plus, I was able to play media files directly off of the Android and Windows Phones without any problems, with correct meta data and cover art. Neat.

Android

Windows Phone

iPhone

Installation

Very similar to what we had with the Plasma version - except this is a more complex, UEFI/GPT setup. However, there were no real problems. The installer is fast and detects the disk setup quickly, giving you a label for each detected system. You do need to manually select /boot/efi mount, otherwise the installation will fail.

On the downside, the partition list shows no indication if certain partitions are going to be formatted or not, so that can be a little confusing. Also, if you choose English (or any multi-locale language) for the installer, it will still default to the nearest EN locale based on your timezone/location, which is annoying. There's a reason why I choose a particular language, so why change my selection?

Installer

Partitions layout

Partitions selected

There's also a visual glitch in the summary step. If you don't maximize the installer screen and you have a long list of partitions, the control buttons are obscured by the bottom panel on a 768px height, which is the max vertical resolution for my Lenovo laptop (1366x768). That would not be a problem IF the scrollbar worked - but what you see is the max. bottom position. There's that gap, and you just can't get it to scroll any further down.

Max screen height bug

The procedure was fast - but not as fast as on the LG machine, with non-linear progress. The unsquashfs part took about 10 minutes alone, and at that time, the installer progress bar sat at 20%. You don't really know if it's working or not.

Installing

Hakoila in action

The system installed fine, but ... no Wireless was preserved. MSM gives you a kernel update notification, but how can it know that without Internet connection. Anyway, I had to do a bunch of maintenance to get the system in order.

Installed

Package management & updates

This part worked reasonably well. I also installed yaourt, and then used it to configure additional software, including new themes and decorations, icons, plus extra programs that are needed for sane and fun daily usage. The package manager window does not obey the system decoration defaults - it's got its own GTK shenanigans, with its own theme and transparent border. We've seen this in several distributions, not just Arch-related, and it's a general problem of moving parts around with zero QA. Overall, the package manager is very fast, and the updates were non-intrusive.

Updates

Applications

Manjaro Hakoila Xfce ships with a decent selection of software - Firefox, Thunderbird, Steam, GIMP, LibreOffice, Microsoft Office Online, as I already mentioned in the Plasma review, VLC, and then some. Very neat and practical. I also installed Skype and Chrome using yaourt, and this worked without any issues.

Apps

Hardware compatibility, suspend & resume

The Manjaro Settings Manager has a limited set of sub-menus - no integration like Plasma, and it lists all drivers, including open-source stuff, but then, no Intel firmware. Odd, I'd say. Or perhaps I'm missing something obvious.

Hardware drivers

Power management is quite good overall, but some of the defaults are tricky. Webcam worked just fine, even though there's no default applet, and Cheese has no icon in the Vertex set. Fn buttons, alles klar. Suspend & resume, among the best I've ever seen, with a sub-1s wake back to full desktop functionality. Never has a distro done it better, not even when I used an SSD-powered test laptop. Wireless reconnects correctly, unlike the Plasma edition that struggled with this. Apparently, inconsistencies affect not just Ubuntu but all other distros with multiple desktop environments. All this speaks of the greater fragmentation and QA woes in the Linux world.

Power management

A different style compared to the rest of the distro.

Webcam

More on network support

Samba was not working, right. Well, I installed various packages, including the pysmbc stuff, plus all the Samba plugins for Nemo, Nautilus and Thunar, and then I finally had Samba access. A few MB of data separate Manjaro from being a nerdy distro and a friendly system that acknowledges the fact 90% of all desktops are Windows out there. Likewise, I installed a normal printer tool, and I could finally print. Such a shame.

Python Samba packages

Printer works after manual install

Resource usage

Fairly frugal and lean. Performance and responsiveness are dog's bollocks (for those lean on street lingo, this is good, right). Memory usage is about 400 MB on idle, and the CPU ticks zero. Lovely jubbly. This is definitely one of the faster distros I've tested in a long time.

Resources

Battery usage

Normally Xfce distro have sucky, relatively positioned battery indicator popups that are just plain ugly. Manjaro does it with grace. But more importantly, it's also quite frugal when it comes to sipping chemical juice. The battery level is about 75-80% full, due to some aging, which means with 50% screen brightness and light desktop activity, the figure of about 3 hours and change actually means something like 4 hours and a bit more change for a brand new battery. Almost as good as MX Linux, and among the best results we've had ever.

Battery notifications

Battery

Customization

I had to invest a lot of energy making Manjaro 17.1 Xfce look the part, and it wasn't a trivial wallpaper change that I sometimes do. There were a lot of snags. I had to change the Whisker menu layout, and then I noticed, there's a slider bug hiding there. Icons are problematic, as there's no Vertex set for a light-colored panel. If you resize the panel vertically, some of the icons, like the volume, do not scale correctly.

Whisker slider bug

Better menu

I decided to setup a dock - Docky and/or Plank, but in both cases, there was this ugly horizontal line crossing the bottom quarter of the screen. Turns out you need to turn some sort of shadow nonsense in the Compositor settings. Again, these silly defaults are soul-draining. Also, Docky crashed once or twice.

Docky, screen line

Compositor tweaks

More slider problems everywhere.

The annoying part is - all of these extra changes I had to do, not just customization, would take less than a day to implement in the final edition of Manjaro, and with a full week of attention, it would be tiptop. The fact you need to waste time fiddling with these tiny details is what separates a good distro from a great one. And finally:

Final looks

Conclusion

Manjaro 17.1.6 Hakoila Xfce edition is a decent distro. But it's different from the Plasma version, and that's not good. These two systems have a radically different user experience, hardware support, and overall quality, and there's little overlap among them. Almost as if they were developed in isolation. Xfce does media and smartphone support well, but it has sucky network support by default.

It's stable, robust overall, very fast, but the visual side of things is tricky, especially the fonts. You will need to invest time taming the distro, and I'm not talking just about pure subjective aesthetics. Most of the problems that I encountered are solvable, so why not just fix them from the start? If you're looking for a good, friendly Linux desktop, Hakoila is a reasonable choice, partly because it gives you Microsoft Office Online in a way no other distro does. Which makes the Samba and printing issues confusing. The Xfce version has some brilliant moments, marred by incomplete execution and various visual bugs. Overall, 7.0/10, I'd say, and it could easily be much much more with some attention to detail.

Lastly, I deeply worry about the inconsistencies between the Plasma and the Xfce versions. Neither was Hakoila perfect in any form, and worse yet, Gellivara was actually better. Lots of homework required, but then, Manjaro is at the forefront of innovation, a rare thing in Linux nowadays. Despite what we saw today, I'm quite optimistic about this distro. Let's see how it evolves.

Cheers.